First of all, I hope this is a blessed Easter for all of the Western Christians in our readership.
It is another month until Pascha for those of us in Eastern Orthodoxy and this wide gap between the two dates is going to be more common in the future. But that is not the story for today.
No, I want to join the Los Angeles Times in asking American Protestants this question: What time did you get up this morning? Or, if you are in a liturgical church, what time did you get to bed last night or this morning? And did the timing of your alarm clock have anything to do with something called “church tradition” or even “Church Tradition”?
I ask this, because reporter Natasha Lee has taken a lighthearted, but at times disturbing, look inside the fading “tradition” of Protestant churches assembling for sunrise Easter services. The headline was nifty: “More Worshipers Pulling the Shades on Sunrise Service.”
The bottom line is the bottom line: If people don’t want to get up early, and the goal is to gather the largest number of people in the pews (or whatever), then what is the argument in favor of a service at any particular time on the clockface? In the “free church” tradition, what authority is there for any issue in worship?
This is a news story about liturgical majority rule and, to quote G.K. Chesterton, the saints do not have the right to vote. Here is a sample of Lee’s story:
While some Christian churches still faithfully hold sunrise services on Easter, the popularity of such events has waned among younger people and families with children who are reluctant to get out of bed that early.
Traditionally a Protestant practice, sunrise services are held just before dawn in honor of Christ rising from the dead after the crucifixion.
Many Southern California churches prefer to hold outdoor services because darkness turning into daylight is symbolic of Christ shedding his physical body to take on a spiritual form. The image of dawn is significant in Christian theology because it signals the end of the dark days surrounding the crucifixion, said Eddie Gibbs, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena.
The story only briefly notes that Roman Catholics rarely attend such services. The unasked question is “Why?” Where are they?
It would be interesting to know if Lee realized that there is another story haunting this one. If Protestant sunrise Easter services are fading, many liturgical churches — East and West — are struggling to inspire their people to take part in the truly ancient traditions linked to the Easter or Pascha vigil that begins in the middle of the night, with midnight as the moment when the rites kick into high gear. The breaking-the-fast feast that follows is one of the high points of the Orthodox year. But what if people don’t want to stay up that late?
Meanwhile, it does seem that more evangelical churches are simply putting this Easter issue up to a vote. Others may try to do a better job of marketing these sunrise services. Check out the wonderful section of Lee’s story about the “Espresso Yourself” rites at one church.
This is a fine story, even if it is incomplete. Perhaps Lee can return to this topic in a month, at Pascha.